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Blagojevich’s fate in jury’s hands

- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 27, 2010

CHICAGO | Jurors who will now decide the fate of disgraced former Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich have two very different portraits to ponder: The Democrat is either an insecure bumbler who talked too much or a sly, greedy political schemer determined to use his power to enrich himself.

The contrasting images were offered by a prosecutor and a defense attorney as they finished closing arguments and prepared to hand the case over to the jury, which was scheduled to begin deliberating Mr. Blagojevich's fate Tuesday after hearing seven weeks of evidence.

Defense attorney Sam Adam Jr. described his client as naive and a poor judge of character — but not a criminal. He dismissed prosecution claims that Mr. Blagojevich tried to sell or trade the appointment to President Obama's former Senate seat in late 2008.

Mr. Adam told jurors they knew the truth after listening to hours of FBI wiretap tapes played by prosecutors.

"You heard the tapes, and you heard Rod on the tapes," he said. "You can infer what was in Rod's mind on the tapes. You can infer from those tapes whether he's trying to extort the president of the United States. We heard tape after tape of just talking."

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Reid Schar took those same words and told the jury to listen to both what the governor said and what he didn't say. Mr. Blagojevich, he insisted, knew how to ask for a bribe in a way that the person on the other end of the phone understood exactly.

"He knows how to communicate, that is what he does for a living," Mr. Schar said. "He's good at it."

Mr. Adam — pacing, sweating and alternately shouting and whispering in his summation — acknowledged to jurors as he began that he did not call Mr. Blagojevich to testify, as he had promised when the trial started, because the government did not prove its case.

"I thought he'd sit right up here," Mr. Adam shouted, walking over to the witness stand and pointing at the empty chair. "I promised he'd testify. We were wrong. Blame me.

"I had no idea that in 2½ months of trial that they'd prove nothing. … They want you, you and you to convict him" with no evidence, he yelled, moving along the jury box and pointing to individual jurors.

Mr. Adam had wanted to name potential witnesses who prosecutors didn't call to testify, even threatening Monday to risk jail by doing it after Judge James B. Zagel forbade it.

Judge Zagel rejected the idea of incarcerating the defense attorney at the beginning of the proceedings, but still warned him not to name the witnesses, saying he would be held in contempt of court. Mr. Adam never crossed that line but did find a way to work in references to Mr. Obama, presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

The prosecution objected more than 20 times to Mr. Adam's remarks, all of which were sustained by the judge.

Mr. Blagojevich, 53, has pleaded not guilty to 24 counts, including trying to sell or trade an appointment to Mr. Obama's vacated Senate seat for a Cabinet post, private job or campaign cash. His brother and adviser, Nashville, Tenn., businessman Robert Blagojevich, 54, has also pleaded not guilty to taking part in that alleged scheme.

Mr. Adam said prosecutors never presented evidence that anyone who was reportedly targeted by Mr. Blagojevich for a shakedown conducted fundraising.

"Tell me one state contract tied to fundraising?" he asked. "Did they bring one state contract based on fundraising? Just one? No."

Mr. Adam said that a big reason why the governor is on trial is that he is a bad judge of character.

"He's got absolute horrible judgment on people. And that's this case and they want you to find him guilty of these horrible crimes because of that," he said.

In its rebuttal, the prosecution said Mr. Blagojevich is not the bumbling, naive victim portrayed by defense attorneys. Mr. Schar told jurors that Mr. Blagojevich is an experienced politician who knew better than to explicitly ask for money or other favors.

Mr. Schar said the people who testified understood that Mr. Blagojevich was threatening funding for their various projects if they did not come up with campaign contributions.

"It was obvious," he said. "Somehow Mr. Adam would say to you the master communicator here didn't get it."

Mr. Schar, who did not raise his voice throughout his argument, did display emotion for the first time near the end of his presentation, pausing, rubbing his face and looked down on the floor before he raised his head and gave what were the final words the jury would hear from attorneys.

"I don't know how you begin to put a price on the damage defendant Blagojevich has caused," he said. "The time for accountability for the defendants is now."

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